If you live in upstate New York, if you're not lucky, you may find out that the unemployment benefit hearing process is stacked against the poor, unemployed worker. I just had the wonderful experience of having the lawyer abandon me the week before the hearing, and here I am very stressed from physical illness, poverty, lack of work, you name it. I really need a lawyer to attend with me, but I can't find one, let alone afford it. The hearing can't be postponed because the employer requested it. I have no rich parent to wave money in front of someone's nose like on TV. (I wish.) There is only one agency in the area that can help, but the representative can't attend the hearing with you. The agency doesn't have enough money. (Who's not donating money for the legal field, I wonder.) Lawyers supposedly working in the unemployment area have not returned my phone calls or, in one case, didn't even have the expertise listed in his ad in the phone book. (That floored me.) Only someone registered with the court can go in with me, not just any intelligent, supportive friend to help me keep my wits about me. The system is set up so that a poor, stressed-out unemployed person with NO legal experience is forced to appear in court against the former boss who is in part responsible for the stress and his/her PAID legal help (if present). That is not fair! I guess we have to thank the three men who controlled New York State for so long for these rules: the Governor (George Pataki), Senate Majority Leader (Joseph Bruno, since convicted of federal corruption charges, that were later thrown out--his phone system installed in one office I worked in was crappy, and sometimes disconnected all by itself), and Assembly Speaker (Sheldon Silver, currently having his sexual harassment scandal hushed up). (I still don't know why the Senate coup wasn't a nation-wide scandal and more change in New York State wasn't made.)
I made two mistakes that you should not:
- If you have an appointment with Legal Aid, go to it anyway, in case the lawyer you've been in discussion with abandons you, too.
- Send in the Application for Referral for pro bono help, in case the lawyer abandons you.
One helpful note, it could be the lawyer abandons you just because s/he doesn't think he'll be awarded enough money for his time. That's all you need at the time, to learn that you aren't worth the time.
It is excruciating to be treated with less regard and fewer rights than someone arrested for a criminal offense. I was just doing what the system required me to do. I am trying to survive, literally. We are all worth more than the people who have created this system and the people who refuse to help us.
Since I had to attend the hearing, after some panicking, I got down to work and organized my evidence the best I could. I based it on the copy of the letter I received from the former employer. I felt very good that I could prove him wrong on 10 out of 12 points. A couple were weak. Two were missing from the letter, but were brought up, and I had proof in my evidence. It had to be continued since my part of the hearing took longer than expected :) The second part of the hearing was not fun since the former employer could not produce much evidence and his summation consisted of character assassination. However, I WON!